Jesus, Our All-Providing King
Passage: John 6:1–21
Sermon on John 6:1-21 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on Sunday, June 16, 2013
Before we get to the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand, let me mention four observations. John is a very good story teller and very intentional in leading us into the next scene where Jesus feeds more than five thousand people. This is one of the many signs Jesus did in the presence of his disciples; and John includes this one that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we might have life in his name (20:31). So, in order to lead us into having life in Jesus’ name, John kicks off the next story by laying some groundwork. Jesus is now on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and the first thing John points out is a large crowd following him. And they follow him “because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick” (6:2). So their following of Jesus is qualified by the statement “because they saw the signs that he was doing.” We’ve seen this sort of qualification twice already in John’s Gospel—in 2:23 and in 4:48—and each time it appears, John is highlighting the people’s superficial disposition toward Jesus, a disposition that may very well be present in some of you. It’s not as though this crowd has died to themselves, taken up their cross, and followed Jesus as Lord of all. They’re only following Jesus as sign seekers. They’re not truly trusting Jesus for eternal life; they only want the immediate benefits of his power. They love what Jesus does for them without loving Jesus himself. That’s why later on we’ll find some of them grumbling at what he says and many of them eventually forsaking Jesus (6:41, 66). So unbelief is present—that’s the first thing we observe.
The second thing we observe is that Jesus is up on a mountain sitting with his disciples while this crowd of some 5,000 people is coming toward him (6:3). The last place we saw this sort of thing happening was in 4:30-35. The Samaritan woman told her town about Jesus; many people come to see what this guy is all about; and as the people are coming to Jesus, Jesus turns to his disciples who are nearby and uses it as an opportunity to teach them about what’s going on right before their eyes: the promises of Abraham are being fulfilled in his coming and the fields are white for harvest.
On top of that—third observation—in the same way that Jesus tells his disciples in chapter 4 to lift up their eyes to see that the fields are white for harvest, we see Jesus lifting up his eyes upon the crowds in verse 5, before he ever says a word to Philip. And John tells us that so that we understand that Jesus hasn’t ceased in his mission to gather fruit for eternal life. What he’s about to do before this crowd of people and what he’s about to reveal of himself to his disciples has eternal life as its goal. So nobody can listen to this account of Jesus in a morally neutral position—you either trust in Jesus for eternal life or you perish.
Fourth observation—John tells us in verse 4 that the Passover, the feast of the Jews, is at hand. We might not make much of that at first. We might view it as a mere historical marker in John’s storyline. But, in a Gospel that begins with identifying Jesus as the Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world (1:29), and in a chapter where Jesus says he will give his life for the world (6:33), Passover is saying so much more than simply giving us the time of the events. John means to reveal Jesus to us yet again as the one who gives himself up to death that we might gain life.
So here’s the situation John lays out: unbelief is present in the hearts of the people; the disciples are nearby their Teacher as crowds follow him; Jesus is still in the business of gathering fruit for eternal life; and the Passover provides another golden opportunity to reveal himself as the one sent by God to give us life. It sounds to me like it’s time for another miracle and for Jesus’ Father to bear witness to his Son’s glory. It’s time to attack unbelief, teach the disciples, gather fruit for eternal life, and reveal himself as Savior.
A Question with a Self-Revealing Purpose
Jesus is all over this, and so he says to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He doesn’t ask Philip that question because he doesn’t know the answer. John has given us several accounts already that have shown us that Jesus knows everything. On top of that, verse 6 tells us why he asked Philip that question: “He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.”In other words, Jesus doesn’t ask the question from his own ignorance, but to remove the disciples’ ignorance about who he really is. That’s what Jesus always does with his disciples: he is utterly devoted to revealing himself to those who truly follow him. Philip has been with Jesus from the very beginning. He has witnessed the miracle at Cana, he saw the spiritual awakening among the Samaritans, he’s watched the sick be healed and the lame walk, but there’s more he needs to treasure about Jesus himself if he’s to possess eternal life. So Jesus tests Philip with a question to see if Philip’s faith remains true to who Jesus really is. In other words, in his question, Jesus is extending to Philip more than his power to meet the momentary need of all these hungry people. Jesus is extending himself to Philip. His question as a test shows that his greatest concern is that his disciples know where such a magnificent provision could ever come from. By asking “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat,” Jesus offers himself to Philip as his all-sufficient Provider. The question is “Does Philip look to Jesus like that?
The Problem of Our Unbelief
The test proves that Philip doesn’t look to Jesus as all-sufficient Provider, nor do the other disciples—at least not initially; they will later, but not here (cf. 6:68-69). They don’t understand Jesus’ question because they’ve yet to see fully who Jesus really is. So, just like the lame man did in 5:7, Philip and the disciples limit God’s power to their own abilities and what they can make out of their present circumstances. Rather than turning to Jesus as the all-sufficient Provider—rather than answering Jesus’ question with a “You are the only One who could meet all of our needs. You have endless resources at your disposal. Even if there’s no bread at all, you are all we truly need”—rather than that, the disciples take Jesus’ question literally and turn first to their own buying power, or at least what Philip could even dream up as their potential buying power for so much food.Verse 7, “Philip answered [Jesus], ‘Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’” In that day, a denarius was the amount you’d normally pay someone for an entire day’s worth of work. So, that translates into about eight months worth of day-wages. Philip is essentially saying, “Jesus, two-hundred times what any one person has in his pocket today wouldn’t even give a spoonful to every person we see here. I don’t know about you, but my calculations are saying we should send them all home and not ask that question so loudly next time.” Andrew then gives his input after Philip in verse 9 and doesn’t turn to their potential buying power. He turns to their present circumstances, the food he can already see with his physical eyes. He says, “There’s a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many [people]?” Again, this is an impossible situation for the disciples—there’s not enough money and circumstances are too dire—especially when you forget the Son of God is standing beside you.
You know these times well, church. Do we not? The strains in some of your relationships are just too great to be restored to full health. The people you’re pouring your life out for are just too hardened to hear another Bible passage read to them—they’re just too far gone. The addictions that are waging war against your soul are just too enticing—they’re just too hard to shake; the hurt it has caused is just too much to heal. The drugs I’ve seen passed around in this city, destroying people made in God’s image, are just too much for grace to conquer. The satanic strongholds I’ve encountered as a pastor and that some of you are experiencing lately as a result of gospel penetration in this city and what some of you will be experiencing soon in Utah are just too powerful to overcome. The darkness is just too thick. The barriers of culture and religious background of our neighbors are just too daunting to surmount.
We know what the disciples are experiencing as they look at five-thousand hungry people. These things are too much, but not too much for Christ. They’re not too much for our all-sufficient provider. But just like the disciples, we often turn to our own self-sufficiency and to what we can see with our own eyes and what we can do with our own hands and what we can scheme up with our own minds. We have relational strains and so we turn to another church or affinity group. We’re dealing with a hardened sinner and so we turn to bribes and superficial smiles and anything else that might cover the offense of the gospel he needs to hear. We lose a battle against sin and so we turn to more external controls, more isolation, and start toying with self-help psychology. We can’t assuage the power of one addiction and so we distract ourselves with another. We can’t surmount the cultural barriers and so we turn to pragmatism for answers instead of prayer and faithfulness to God’s word—and all this frantic turning to other resources when the Son of God is beside you.
The All-Sufficient Son of God
Instead of turning to Jesus as our all-sufficient Lord, we despair as we stare at our lack in any given situation. What’s really at the heart of all our despair and all our turning to self and the world for answers and supply is that we don’t have enough Jesus satisfying our souls! He is the all-sufficient One who is able to do far more abundantly than anything we can ask or think (Eph 3:20), and who is able to supply every need of ours according to his riches in glory (Phil 4:19), and who is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work (2 Cor 9:8).The situation the disciples are in and the question Jesus raises is intended to highlight that, yes, we our bankrupt, but Jesus is everything we need. So, knowing this about us and about himself, Jesus patiently reveals his power once again in verses 10-13. Jesus says in verse 10, “Have the people sit down.” He’s about to show them what he’s all about. John continues, “Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number [highlighting the immense nature of what Jesus is about to do].” Verse 11, “Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks [Remember that it is his Father who bears witness through his works.], he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.” And if that’s not enough to prove his power and provision, he sends the disciples out again in verse 12. “And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, ‘Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.’ So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.”
May I just say that by asking the disciples to gather up the fragments, Jesus is not merely establishing the ethical practice of saving your leftovers after a meal? He is revealing the nature of who he is and what his mission accomplishes—just like all his miracles reveal. In other words, he’s making it abundantly clear that he is the Son of God who came from heaven to give helpless sinners like us more than we could ever dream. It’s no accident that twelve disciples pick up twelve baskets full of bread fragments. Jesus is personally telling them that he is more than enough for each of them—and not just because he gave them a crazy amount of bread to eat. Yes, he is able to supply them with the momentary provision of bread—that’s abundantly clear in the miracle—but the momentary blessing of bread is only a pointer to the eternal blessings that come in a relationship with him.
That’s why he’ll go on to teach the people in verse 27 not “to labor for the food that perishes [food like this bread he just gave them] but [to labor] for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” The point of the miracle is not the bread; it’s to look through the bread to have the all-sufficient Christ himself, meeting your every need—including your greatest need, the forgiveness of your sins, which have separated you from God. In fact, that’s why Jesus doesn’t allow the people to make him king in verses 14-15. Let’s look at that for a minute.
Jesus Is the True King of Israel
Verse 14 says, “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’ Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” Why not go ahead and ride into Jerusalem as king? Jesus obviously has the power to provide an abundant spread for all his people; he obviously has the power to heal the sick; and the way he was talking in chapter 5, I doubt the Romans could stand a chance—“let’s just get this show on the road!” Why is it that Jesus refuses to let the people make him king? I see two answers, here.One answer is that Jesus doesn’t need to be made king by humans; Jesus is King already—which is what I think verses 16-21 prove. Read them with me: “When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles [off shore], they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.” In other words, “I’m not going to let the people make me king; and I’ll wait till the disciples are four miles off shore before I catch up by walking on the water in a storm.” What’s going on here?
Throughout the Old Testament, only God—the true King of Israel—controls the waters. In Gen 1:9, it is God who commands the waters to be gathered into one place that the dry land may appear. In Gen 6:17, it is God who brings a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh. And after Israel comes through the Red Sea in the great exodus, Moses writes these words about God: “At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up; the floods stood up in a heap; the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea. The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them. I will draw my sword; my hand shall destroy them.’ You [Lord] blew with your wind; the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters. ‘Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?’”
Or how about Ps 107:23-30?—which is an absolutely fitting text in relation to what John says in his Gospel? Read them with me: “Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of the LORD, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.”
What’s John’s point in verses 16-21? His point is that by walking on the water, Jesus reveals himself to the disciples as the true King of Israel, to whom the whole Old Testament bears witness. He didn’t have to reveal himself to them, but in his patience with their unbelief, he does. He wants them to see that the one who gives them bread is also the one who stills the seas—the King of Israel himself. So, answer number one as to why Jesus doesn’t let the people make him king is that Jesus doesn’t need people to make him king; he is King already. He will not be forced into a mold of what we want him to look like—a Jesus squeezed into our agenda to establish our kingdom on our terms. Jesus is to be embraced for the King he truly is—God almighty, who upholds the universe by the word of his power.
But there’s another answer to why Jesus doesn’t let the people make him king; namely, Jesus doesn’t want them to miss the nature of his mission. Jesus is carrying out the mission of his Father who sent him into the world; and if we’re to understand Jesus rightly, we must understand the nature of his mission. God did not send his Son into the world to save the world through pomp and pageantry and imperial force; he sent his Son into the world as a humble servant willing to lay down his life for rebels fighting against his kingdom. Jesus doesn’t allow the people to put a crown on his head, because his Father has ordained he wear a crown of thorns instead. Yes, he’s able to give the people bread; yes, he controls the waters; but the kind of king Jesus is doesn’t stop there. Jesus is the kind of king that goes to the cross in the place of sinners who deserve nothing but his wrath and fury. And his provision of bread must be understood through that mission.
Jesus could have stayed in heaven and filled their bellies with bread—just like he did with Israel in the wilderness. The point is that he came to fill their hearts with himself through the forgiveness of their sins and reconciliation with God. But that would come only by submitting to the will of his Father. The Father designed for his Son a cross before the crown. The people only want Jesus to be king because they want his bread; but Jesus wants them to have more than bread. He wants to give them eternal life with himself; and so he resists their scheme to make him king in order to accomplish his Father’s will. For people to truly enjoy him as their King, they must enjoy him as the all-sufficient One—the true bread given by God for their eternal life. So that’s answer number two as to why Jesus doesn’t let the people make him king: the nature of his mission is not governed by the will of zealous men; the nature of his mission is governed by his Father in heaven, and that mission includes suffering for our sins on a cross.
Now, we’ll see more of that in coming weeks, but I’d like to stop there and ask you a question. How are you turning to Jesus as your all-sufficient King? That may sound archaic, since the majority of us don’t belong to a monarchy, nor do we usually think in those terms. But do remember that our world must not shape the Bible, but the Bible must shape our world—and the Bible depicts Jesus as the reigning King over the universe who died and rose again that we might be reconciled to God. He sits enthroned in heaven with all authority in heaven and on earth. There are no heavenly competitors to his throne and nobody on earth who can thwart his purposes.
So the question is, “How are you turning to Jesus as your all-sufficient King?” In the miracle of feeding the five thousand, we see that he is totally able to meet our needs—his resources are infinite; his power is fitting for every occasion; his knowledge of our situation is perfect. In the leftovers that the disciples picked up, we see that he is more than enough for us personally—he knows where we do not trust him and knows how to work such that we see his glory more clearly and learn to trust him. In the walking on the waters, we see that he has total control of everything—so much control that there’s no darkness too thick for him to penetrate, no waves too high for him to calm, and no distance into the storm too far for him to find us and bring us to himself. But more than all that put together, in refusing kingship at the hands of zealots, we see a King steadfast in making every provision for us to be reconciled with God. I mentioned last week that I listen to Shai Linne, and I think he has it absolutely right when he says, “So forever will I tell, the three hours Christ suffered more than any sinner ever will in hell”—and he did it so that I can be with God forever.
So, Jesus is an all-sufficient King in that he provides everything we truly need in all circumstances forever, because when you’re with God you have no lack. That’s a wonderful place to be, brothers and sisters, knowing that in all circumstances every need you could ever imagine and more is met through your relationship with God in Christ—because he is truly everything.
He has already made provision for your bouts with depression in that you will never experience true separation from God, even though you may feel he’s far away at times. Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” so that you would never have to. Moreover, he’s made you a friends with God himself who speaks to you through his word and sustains your hopes by his Spirit. When you have God, what more do you need?
He has already made provision for your guilt in that Christ died to cleanse you from all iniquity and bring you into perfect fellowship with God. He has already made provision for the shame you feel from your past by clothing you with honor through his resurrection life. He is near to us in our parenting so that we can now relate to our children as our heavenly Father relates to us. He has already made provision this afternoon when your son or daughter rejects your authority. Since nothing they say can steal what you possess in your relationship with Christ, there’s no reason to turn to anger, but only patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. He is our all-sufficient king in our marriages in that his death frees husbands from their selfishness to love their wives as Christ loved the church and to live with their wives in an understanding manner. He walks with us as our bridegroom, never to leave us or forsake us, but only to clothe us with splendor. He has already made provision for our financial predicaments in that we now belong to God himself who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, who clothes the fields with flowers, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy, and who also gives us to one another that we might contribute to each other’s needs. Even when we cannot see how the provision will come, we must trust that God will meet all of our needs because what are any of them in comparison to the need he’s met in the cross—our reconciliation with God, who is truly everything.
So turn to Christ as your all-sufficient King—on Monday when the children are absolutely crazy; on Tuesday when you sit down at the dinner table to give thanks; on Wednesday when your soul is weary from the day before Care Group; on Thursday when your lost friend sends you another angry Facebook message rejecting Christ; on Friday when you’re spent at work and the boss asks you to work later than usual—on every occasion, turn to the one who delights in revealing himself to you as the all-sufficient king. Look not to your own resources. Let not the present circumstances paralyze you. Christ has new mercies and infinite supplies at his disposal and has also done everything his Father required to see that you obtain them through a relationship with him.
More in The Gospel According to John
May 24, 2015Eyewitness Testimony to the Greatness of Jesus
May 17, 2015Loving Jesus & Feeding His People at All Costs
May 10, 2015Believing the Apostle's Testimony When Not Seeing Jesus